Degree Versus No Degree, That is the question!
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Diversity > Diversity News > Degree Versus No Degree….That is the Question!

Degree Versus No Degree… That is the Question! Weighing experience to formalized degree

By Sean Fetterman

Article published in the HRP-MN Update January 2007

As recruiters, we are constantly striving to find ways to hire and retain talent for our organizations that are the best and brightest to lead our organizations today and into the future. We pride ourselves on seeking out talent that comes from the best colleges and universities across the country, but what about finding the best with the most work experience?

The context of this article is just some food for thought as another option to explore in recruiting the best for our organizations. What if we took a step back and looked at broadening the scope of candidates by increasing the weight of years of direct professional work experience as a more critical qualifier than just simply requiring a 4-year degree? Some positive outcomes to looking at this may be:

  • Reducing the time to train the candidate to get him/her up-to-speed and therefore increase productivity.
  • Years of experience from competitors that will help move your department/organization forward in thinking “outside the box” and finding other creative avenues to increase driving results and achieving goals.
  • A knowledge base that you may not get out of a recent graduate.

I recently attended a seminar on recruiting and this subject came up for discussion. With the onset of the Baby Boomers' exploring retirement options, employers are going to be losing valuable years of experience and knowledge. As a result, recruiters will be faced with a challenge to fill these positions with less of a candidate pool but will be expected to help maintain company productivity and bottom-line results.

In brainstorming during an exercise with the participants at the seminar, one common theme was that employers at this seminar are now starting to focus more on a candidate’s years of direct work experience rather than a formal degree.

One participant had a great example that I would like to share with you. She said that she was working on a requisition to fill a position in Finance and had a flood of résumés from candidates that recently graduated from a 4-year Accounting degree program. Even though this may be valuable in the long term, her immediate need was to hire a person with experience who could get up to speed in a short period of time. The candidate she offered the position to did not have a 4-year degree, but did complete a 2-year degree and had plenty of Finance coursework and 7 years of mid-level Accountant experience.

Here is what transpired to ultimately lead to the decision to offer this candidate the position:

  • The recruiter met with the CFO and asked her, “What are the three most important things this person could bring to the position?” The CFO stated that experience, customer focus, and longevity in his/her work past were critical in this position.
  • In understanding that the CFO wanted a candidate with a degree, the recruiter wanted to clarify how important this was to her. The response that came back surprised her, which was, “Well….it would be good, but ultimately I want someone who has been in Finance and understands P&Ls and other reports as well as day-to-day operations of the department. I thought that it was a requirement to ask for a degree?”

As recruiters, we may be missing out on some extremely valuable talent in the forecasted labor shortage. In recruiting, we always want to hire “the best”, right? If the best possible candidate comes to us without a degree, but the experience and value to be successful in the position are there, isn’t that worth it? One way of closing the gap may be requiring the candidate to earn his/her 4-year degree while employed with your organization within a specified time frame. This way, you get the experience you desire and have the opportunity to assist someone in earning a 4-year degree!

Your competitors may still be operating along the lines of “Degree first. Experience Second.” Consider changing your strategy when listing requirements for the position to be “Bachelor’s degree in related area desired. A combination of post secondary education and direct work experience may be considered.” You will be opening up the possibilities to increase diversity and perspectives in ideas and experiences for your organization. This way, you will have the opportunity to look at candidates with both the 4-year degree and those with some post secondary education and years of direct professional work experience and find the best!

In adopting a more flexible strategy like this, who will be filling their positions with more qualified and experienced candidates, you or your competition?

Again, this is just food for thought, but it may be a way to reduce the amount of stress we will find ourselves dealing with as we look to fill critical roles within our organizations as Baby Boomers start to explore retirement options.

This article was written by Sean Fetterman, SPHR, CDR. Sean is employed with Twin Cities Public Television in St. Paul, Minnesota as the Senior Recruiting, Training & Diversity Manager. You may reach Sean with questions at or 651-229-1438.

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